Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Night Train

This trip has been a combination of incredible cities filled with rich history and beauty.  We have traveled high and low across gorgeous landscapes of many different countries.  When they presented us with an opportunity to travel across Germany on train, most all of us were giddy with excitement.  On the day of our ride, we shopped for snacks and drinks to make our ride even more comfortable.  Little did we know that we would need a lot more than that. 

We stood along the tracks at 7:50pm with specific instructions to GET ON THE TRAIN.  Since the train was coming from another station, it would be departing quickly.  We had our groups together, memorized our couchette numbers and lined up in order.  Ready. To. Go.


The train arrived with a huge screech.  We quickly started dragging our bags into the car.  Turned left and suddenly found our space had disappeared.  Imagine almost 20 kids with 40 lb bags jammed into a space that can't fit 2 elementary school kids side by side. 

Problem #1: No Cabin numbers. 
As we squeezed down the space, we quickly realized that the walls only marked seat numbers. The only seat numbers we had were 36 & 37.  Two needles in a haystack that was leaving in 2 minutes.

Problem #2: We were going the wrong direction.
Other people had entered the train car from the other side and were now dragging their bags toward us in a frantic search for their sans-number couchette.  The kids tell of one woman shoving them aside in order to get her kids and bags on board while yelling something in French about "going to the corner"!  Rumor has it that one of the kids was shoved into the bathroom!

Then the train pulls away.  Cabin found.  All kids on board.  A moment of calm. 


Imagine Trent. Six foot six. Now imagine 5 other teenage boys.  Stack them on top of each other with six bags.  Now shove them into your closet.  Close the door for 14 hours!

Bon Voyage!

Problem #3:  No one knows how to turn on the air.
So many people from all over the world piled into this car.  A multitude of languages spoken and bathing habits.  You've heard of Ratatouille, the hot French soup combining all sorts of flavors and fragrances?  This is the night train. 

Unbelievably, some of the kids relaxed and enjoyed the ride.  Some others were not so lucky, present company included.  In order to keep the kids together, some of the adults had to share couchettes with strangers. I'll spare you those details. All that I can comment on is that I am scarred for life. 

There is nothing like being squeezed into a box in complete darkness with a train that rolls side to side, makes random stops, and often goes in reverse.

If you are ever offered the opportunity to "experience" a trip like this, I recommend you think on it. 

Reunited in Berlin

For some of us, this was the city of choice.  More modern, more shopping, and more like the bigger cities of the USA.  We started our tour off with our traditional guided tour of the city.  Kevin Kennedy was a fast talking, engaging, and sometimes edgy tour guide.  He was the complete opposite of our guide in Prague and the kids welcomed that.

Having spent a few of my younger years in Germany, I was completely blown away by the idea that we were walking around in East Berlin.  Now, years after the reunification, you can still see the sharp contrasts in architecture.  For the history buffs in our group, Berlin was the epicenter of World War II lessons.
As if walking through the pages of a book, we crossed under the Brandenburg Gate, climbed into the dome of the Reichstadt, and strolled freely across Checkpoint Charlie.  These were almost unthinkable acts when I was younger.

The kids all seemed to love the city.  They talk about the easy to use subway system, the countless cafes, and great shopping.  Many of the kids rented bicycles, visited the zoo, walked along the artwork painted on still standing sections of The Wall, and shopped in the historic KaDeWe.  A few of us even visited a relic of the Cold War - an underground fallout shelter. 

With the night train on Saturday night, we were given almost another day to relax.  We would need it.